Eating Red Oak Acorns

I ate my first acorn this summer - a white oak acorn in a public park. I cracked it, peeled it, and stuck it in my mouth. It tasted a lot like a sunflower seed. I was surprised at how pleasant it was. I swallowed it and that was that. Then I noticed a bitter taste in my mouth. It took a few minutes to get the taste to go away. Tannin is sneaky like that.
Red Oak Leaf from our Backyard
We have a large Northern red oak in our backyard. I ate one of the acorns today. It was sooooo bitter! I have always "known" that red acorns are more bitter than white, so my taste test wasn't all that surprising. 

Even still, it was time to see what we could do with the acorns in our yard. So we gathered up a bucket of red acorns to turn into flour.

We are fortunate to live near a large nature preserve filled with mature maples, oaks, and basswood trees. Most of the oaks are red, but a I have found a few white and burr oaks this summer.

In our own yard, we have 3 mature maples and 3 mature red oaks. Our biggest tree is over 100 years old and produces loads of acorns each fall. 
These acorns fall all over our mulch beds, the forest floor, and in our grass.

Each year, we pull out the acorns in the grass and toss them into the forest. Left in the grass, the tannin kills the grass and the shells make the ground lumpy.

So this year.... I put the "grass acorns" into a bucket and decided we would give them a try.

I did not take any extra. Squirrels, deer, mice, and turkeys eat these acorns and since we are not in an emergency scenario, I want to keep it that way.

I left them all the forest, tree, and mulch acorns.

Turkeys have been visiting daily to scratch at grubs and grab the acorns. They tear up the lawn to get the acorns (and grubs).
 The love to dig in the mulch. In the process, they keep burying my new blueberry bushes!
So I gathered up about a quarter of a 5 gallon bucket worth of acorns and tops.
I filled this with water from our rain barrel. Any that float are either immature, loaded with worms, or are bare caps.
We had quite a few floaters. Many acorns and of course caps. My kids threw a bug gall into the mix....
After taking out the floaters, I was left with acorns and what appeared to be "oily" water. It had that glisteny look to it that oil has when mixed with water. It could also be slug goo. Who knows.
I dumped the water out and put the acorns on newspaper lined trays to dry in our porch for a few days.

Acorns are supposed to yield flour in a 2-1 ratio. 2 gallons of nuts should produce 1 gallon of flour.

They take about 2 weeks to dry before you can crack them out of their shell. I cracked one open on day 1 and it was tight in the shell and hard to separate (this was the bitter acorn I mentioned eating at the beginning of this post.

Any green-ish acorns turned brown after about 1 week of drying.

We opened these bad boys up at exactly 2 weeks. We used the combination of a hammer and cutting board or two rocks.

And the results were surprising!

Scary actually!

More than half of our nuts were black inside. Mold or rot? Or something else?
If I process acorns again, I will dry them in full sun instead of inside my porch. I think they must have taken in too much water and then molded. Lessons learned, right?

Oh and the scary part....there were a lot of worms. Check these grossies out:


I only nabbed a few shots because these things were squirmy and gross.

Here's what the acorns looked like when things went right (read: no mold and no worms.)
We filled a small pyrex bowl with them (they all went into water right away to prevent browning.)
Next, they were ground into flour. I tried my best to do this all "off-grid" but none of my hand grinders could get past a very coarse grain. I needed this to get super fine so I could leach the tannin so I used my vitamix (I do own a mortar and pestle but didn't want it to get rancid from the acorn oil - in an emergency, I would go for it.)
These were blended up into a slurry. I started out pouring the goods into a jelly bag but the remaining water was so cloudy and I was sure it was holding all the fats. I did not want to lose the fat (since it would be important to have nutritionally in an emergency and probably helps with palatability.)

Here is the slurry.
Here it is after a few hours.
I poured the red tannin water off after 1 day. It was actually really hard to pour without losing the top fat layer! I ended up using a syringe to pull the top water layer off, then added more water for the next day's leaching.

I eventually transferred the flour and water to a larger pyrex bowl. This made pouring much easier. The leach water did turn a lighter pink then the original red but the flour retained the pink coloring.

At 4 days, I tasted the flour and it was nice and bland. Most advice is to wait a few days after you think it's ready to be sure the tannins are actually out.

I transferred the flour to a mason jar so I could use some of my filtering equipment once it was all ready. A few minutes after tasting the bland (but pink) flour, I noticed a bitter burning in the back of my throat. Obviously not ready.

I think my flour will remain pink. I did not remove the acorn skin (super impossible!) and it was a reddish brown color. The skin does contain a lot of tannin and I am hoping it leaches out but just leaves its "fiber" behind.

In the future, I might try to work harder to get the skin off. And of course, we will dry in the sun or in a dehydrator to prevent molding.

I plan to make pancakes and perhaps brownies with this flour. So far, it looks like we will have about 3/4 of a quart of flour (wet.) I did not use all the acorns we gathered - some were rotten or wormy, some we just tossed back into the forest. I was hoping to get about a cup of flour to make one batch of pancakes.

Even with all the work, damage, and fussiness of the acorns, they are turning out to be productive. Let's hope they taste okay!

As time went on, I started to get 2 distinct layers in the acorn flour. Everything online says you should get a "fat" layer on top. Well, I was getting a whitish layer on bottom, a pink layer on top, then the tannin filled water.
separating tannins from acorn flour

After 8 days, I decided to separate the acorn flour into different containers.

I put the pink stuff in one batch and the white in another. The pink is more mealy and keeps the water easily. I suspect it contains a lot of the acorn skin. I tasted it and it was bland, and mealy.

The white was sticky and hard to get out of the bottom of the bowl. I was using a spatula and it was not strong enough to get it out. I eventually used a metal spoon. The white component was bland tasting and creamy but like wet flour.
Could my fat portion be on the bottom? Was I wrong and I was only going to get this smidge of white flour and the pink was all skins?

After it all settled out, I wound up with 2 bowls of pink/white mix!
This is so frustrating! I am so glad we're not starving right now and needing this to work out!

To be continued....

We wound up with just under 1 cup of usable flour. I ended up using both the white and pink flours. Neither of them had a bitter taste, but I am going to experiment with a few more acorns to see if I can figure this whole thing out.

Maybe the pink flour was all the skin? Maybe the flour separated so much because I used too much water or ground them too fine?

Here is a look at the pancakes cooking:
acorn pancakes from red oak trees

And when they were being eaten:
acorn pancakes from red oak trees

acorn pancakes from red oak trees
I searched for a long time and found an acorn pancake recipe that used only easily foraged/grown ingredients. I bookmarked it...or so I thought. When the day came to use our flour, I couldn't find that recipe to save my life.

So I used my usual pancake recipe and substituted the wheat flour for acorn flour. Our batter was really runny and our pancakes were really thin.

In the future, I will dry the flour our for longer before using it and will use less milk so they are not so thin. 

But.............................................

They tasted great! They were a zillion times better than the buckwheat pancakes I made and to be honest, I like them way better than wheat pancakes. Everyone in the house agreed they were better than the buckwheat. But my daughter (who claims that pancakes are her favorite food) did not like them better than our usual wheat flour pancakes.

And so.........................................

I gathered up another load of acorns - this time from one of our other red oaks. This oak has almost identical leaves but dropped its acorns just last week. The acorns appear to be more reddish brown (as opposed to tannish brown) and are less fat and squatty. Or maybe they are the same?? 

Here's our second batch:
acorn pancakes from red oak trees
Just like last time, I only took the acorns that fell into the grass. This time I was smart enough not to grab any with caps still attached. I am hoping these have less grubs and mold! 

The plan for round 2 is to crack them open and let them soak whole in water for a few days. I will drain off any tannin that leaches out and will try to rub the red skin from the acorns when they are nice and soaked. Then I will roughly chop up the acorns into a coarse meal - not super fine like I did the first time. 

I will then proceed with the leaching. I will wait at least 10 days *from 9/27* (the same leaching that was done last time. I may even keep the nut meats in a jelly bag to make draining easier. Last time the flour was so fine the jelly bag oozed a lot of the nut particles out. 

Here are the separated nut meats.
These were far less wormy or moldy. We had maybe 10% that needed to be tossed as opposed to at least 50% the first time.

I shelled them right away instead of letting them dry. This meant I had to pry the meat out of the shell, and we got no "whole pieces" and it took a little extra time, but I think it was worth it. Also....I think "floating" the acorns to find duds may have added extra water that encouraged molding. 

Next time, I might try and dehydrate a batch in the oven or dehydrator, and then crack them open.

Either way, the testa (reddish skin) still stuck to the acorn meat. After a few days of soaking whole, the testa can rub off if I use my fingernails. Not a quick process! I have found that vigorously shaking the container tends to rip off some of the testa. I will be doing this every day before changing the water to remove as much as possible. Since we ate them last time, I am not stressing if they all stay on.

The testa only came off with extreme rubbing. Definitely not time efficient. I found that shaking the container vigorously did loosen some of the testa and it would float to the top. I then chopped these acorns coarsely and some more testa separated and floated off.

After 9 days of leaching I tested the acorns and they were as bitter as the first day!! So I had to grind them into flour and start over. I did notice that the acorns were starting to turn a pinkish color. Oxidizing.

When I ground the flour this time, I did not attempt to use a filtering bag and instead poured everything right into a container to settle. I did get a white fat later and a pinkish/tan/white layer of ground nut meat. The water started getting pink/red again and the leaching began in earnest.

In the future, I will skip the attempts to remove the testa and will grind the acorns info flour right away so they can be adequately leached.

To be continued.....




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Thank you for your comments! I appreciate all your tips, advice, and well wishes!

Angela

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